Gate Keeper or Option Maker?

Registrars are often known as gate-keepers. The other day, a faculty member said to me, “I send students to you because you know how to say no to them.” Hmm.

Dr. Paul Magnus, my MA supervisor for my Leadership & Management program, used to remind his students that there is always a way forward. Always. Our classes would include research and exercises to demonstrate new ways to think and see so that we could find ways to solve what might seem to be impossible problems. He explained that we almost always have what we need in the teams that we lead and we don’t need to look for the hero or pro to swoop in from somewhere else and save us. He explained that we should look for a solution inside ourselves first.

I have taken that advice and applied it to my work as Registrar for 20 years now, and it seems to have proven true. Here are a few of the ways I have tried to apply it instead of saying NO!:

  • “It’s not no, but rather not yet”;
  • “Not this door, but there’s another way”;
  • “You’re not admissible because you still need ____”;
  • “That policy won’t help you, but this one might”;
  • “The University requires this – do you have it? If not, I can help you find a way to get it.”

I have had doors slammed in my face before, and it usually makes me feel defeated, angry, or worse, unwanted. therefore, I have tried to avoid slamming the “no” in people’s faces because I believe there is always a way forward. It might be hard. It might not be what the person wants, but at least they have a choice. Having choices preserves the person’s dignity and self-worth, and shows them that I believe they are a responsible and reasonable person.

Our job as registrars is to help clear pathways to education (a theme of a registrars conference a few years ago). Sometimes this means pointing out a different path instead of saying no.

Knowing how to say no is a learned, practiced skill that can make a huge difference in people’s lives.


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